As is widely known, the main evidence used to convict former governor Rod Blagojevich, and send him away to prison for 14 years was his private conversations with his aides, wife and brother. The conversations were secretly recorded by the government in late 2008, over eight separate phone lines, including the governor’s home phone and campaign office.
But only a tiny fraction of these tapes have ever been released despite the governor’s repeated demand that the government “release them all.”
There are literally hundreds of hours of Blagojevich tapes that the people of Illinois have never heard. When I first came onto the governor’s case in 2011, I put all of these recordings onto my ipod and spent weeks listening. I can assure you that these tapes tell a very different story about the governor than the story told by the federal prosecutors.
At trial, the government played for the jury cherry-picked excerpts of its tapes — the ones that fit its narrative that the governor tried to sell the senate seat for personal gain and betrayed the people of Illinois. In response, Blagojevich argued that the deal he tried to make for the senate seat was for the benefit of the people of Illinois, not for himself.
Blagojevich argued that he tried to negotiate a deal to appoint Lisa Madigan to the Senate in exchange for Speaker Mike Madigan’s cooperation in enacting the governor’s legislative priorities, including an infrastructure bill and healthcare reform.
Government lawyers, however, convinced Judge James Zagel to exclude the tapes in which Blagojevich discussed the Madigan deal. Then, in closing argument, the lead prosecutor deceptively told the jury to “go back and look at the calls and see how many times Lisa Madigan is actually mentioned … and you’re not going to find it.”
As the prosecutor well knew, the reason the jury couldn’t find these tapes is because the court had excluded them, at the government’s request.
After his trial, Blagojevich continued to demand release of all the tapes. If it was too late to change the mind of the trial jury, he argued, at least the people of Illinois should hear the truth about their governor. But government lawyers continued to oppose unsealing the tapes, citing “privacy” concerns. And the tapes have remained under lock and key.
Now a government lawyer or FBI agent apparently has leaked a sealed tape from the Blagojevich trial to assist the re-election campaign of Gov. Bruce Rauner. See https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/blagojevich-lawyers-wanted-to-play-j-b-pritzker-tape-at-trials/
Readers will note that this newly leaked tape illustrates exactly what Blagojevich tried to tell his jury – that the primary aim of his deal-making was to make a deal with Madigan to get a “capital bill” (to pay for new and repaired infrastructure) and “health care” reform through Madigan’s House. But the jury never heard this tape. Nor did it hear dozens of other similar taped conversations where Blagojevich worked towards a deal with Madigan.
I recently spoke with the former governor, and his response to this latest episode of selective leaking by the government of his private calls is both consistent and predictable: The government should “release them all.”
“My position,” says the governor, “is sunlight.”
Len Goodman, a Chicago-based lawyer, began representing former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in December 2011. Goodman is also a member of the investor group that bought Sun-Times Media last year and sits on the company’s board of directors.
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